No birth certificate, no education

A seven-year-old Philippi girl has internalized the shame of not having a birth certificate to such an extent that she hides inside the house so that people don’t ask why she is not at school.

Philippi, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Her mother Unathi Ntusi (27) has approached numerous schools in Cape Town’s Philippi and Crossroads areas, but has been repeatedly turned away, with the schools telling her that they cannot accept Athabile without a birth certificate. As a result, Athabile spends every morning hiding inside the house because if she ventures outside everyone asks her why she is not at school.

Yet, Unathi says she cannot obtain a birth certificate for her daughter as she needs an ID book to apply for a birth certificate at the Home Affairs office.

Unathi, who works as a hairdresser from the two-room shack she rents, said she never had an ID, and went to apply for one for the first time in July last year. Since then, she has been back more than six times but is told by officials her name is misspelt and the head office needs to rectify the error.

Each trip to Home Affairs to check if her ID is ready costs her R12, which she can barely afford, and without an ID, she is unable to apply for a social grant.

She also needs to apply for birth certificates for her other two children, who are four and two-years-old.

“I thought this year was going to be a great year because of the elections, and that Home Affairs will fast forward my application. One of the Home affairs officials called me before the election, saying I must apply for my birth certificates while they are waiting for my identity document to be processed, but I’m still waiting for my ID so that my children can have their birth certificates,” she said.

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Acting office manager of the Nyanga Home Affairs office, Quincy Shenxane, said Unathi had never applied for an identity document but had only applied for a Late Registration Birth Process (LRB) and had received her birth certificate.

But according to Unathi, on 1 November she went to the social workers in Browns Farm to report her case and two days later received a SMS saying she must collect the birth certificate so that she can reapply for her ID. But she says when she got to the Home Affairs office she was told their system was down and they sent her to the Mitchell’s Plain office to reapply for her ID. However, she was not able to do so as she did not have enough money for the taxi fare.

The Department of Education did not respond to questions emailed to them.

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